She dreams about dying.
She touches the edges of her imagined death, collapses against it gratefully. She’s old; she has a pattern of lines bracketing her eyes, a magnificent display of a life lived. A life she actually got to live.
There is no pain, not that she’s afraid of pain. Her life’s cup was filled with the bitter taste of it after all, and that’s not even counting the pain that didn’t blossom, purplish-blue across her fair skin, the torn lips, the bloody cuts. It doesn’t take into account her previous near-deaths and her two official deaths. This other pain is the pain that comes from loss. Mom. Angel. Spike.
Instead, her death is a floating, not against the current, but with it. Her death is marked by remembrances of things past: dancing at the Bronze, cocoa in her dorm, Angel at her bedroom window, Spike’s intense stare, Giles’s weekly training sessions. And then, later: marriage, children, a station wagon, a camping trip, school lunches, PTA meetings. A career that doesn’t involve the undead, or any other creatures of the night. Her own children are tucked safely in bed, no monsters in the closet.
She dreams about earth. The weight and smell and feel of it. She dreams about worms.
She wakes up screaming.
He is dead, of course. There’s no getting around that small fact, or the fact that no matter how much blood he drinks, his skin will never be warm and his heart will never pump. So, he doesn’t dream about dying. He dreams, instead, about her death and the knowledge that someday it will sweep her away from him is enough to make him weep. He speaks from experience.
There’s a reason why vampires don’t mix with humans. Obviously: victim/prey. But beyond that, it’s too easy to become enamoured with their life. He admits it. His preoccupation with Drusilla is a perfect example of why a vampire shouldn’t ever walk among the living, other than to choose dinner. He remembers the first time he saw her: the swell of virginal hips and breasts covered by plain sackcloth, her midnight hair pulled into a prim knot, her throat pale against a demure fringe of lace.
It wasn’t so much that he thought she was beautiful, though she was. It was more that he thought she might be fun to play with. There was something moist in her eyes. Darla encouraged all forms of cruelty, basked in its glow, and Angel wanted nothing more than to please her. Pleasing Darla only led to bliss.
He was young, puppy-young, ready to piss all over the leg of the first girl he found. Drusilla wasn’t the first girl, but she was the first he’d wanted to keep around. Mostly because she was so fragile, so breakable, so fuckable. He doesn’t remember whether Darla was excited by his choice or not. What he does remember is breaking Darla’s skin, pistoning into her, while Drusilla watched. He remembers the look of shocked fascination on Drusilla’s face, the rapt awareness that she was never going to be with God; not in this life and not in the next.
What he remembers isn’t the pain. And there was pain. What he remembers is the sound; the liquid squishing that reminds him of that stupid haunted house prank, peeled grapes in congealed jelly and squealing kids who can’t wait to test their mettle by sinking their grubby fingers into the mess.
He remembers all the times he was in the right place at the right time: staking Jesse (I’m so sorry) just before he sunk his teeth into Cordelia’s unblemished throat, and stopping Willow (I love you) just before she released her powerful and ill-conceived hatred on the world and saving Buffy (no, don’t die) after the Master had killed her and dropped her, like a useless sack of flesh and bone into the pool in the cave.
Seems like fate has finally caught up with him. Caleb isn’t anyone’s idea of good news and he’s horrendously strong or incredibly clever, Xander can’t decide which. He just knows that he’d rather be dead than have to remember the sound of Caleb’s thumb ripping through his eye, digging through the cornea and cartilage like he was separating meat from bone.
Suspended animation is probably like this, she thinks. (Or, at least she thinks she’s thinking it.)
She looks peaceful. That’s Fred.
Can she hear us, do you think? Gunn.
Lorne starts to sing some Celine Dion song and she wants to scream, Jesus. I’m not dead.
She wonders where Connor is. Angel doesn’t come, but then she supposes that’s to be expected. Not that she actually expects much of anything.
Aren’t comas for lame soap actresses? Characters producers want less of, but don’t want to kill off totally. Not very original.
But she supposes that, considering her whole affair with the Beast and playing on the wrong team, she actually might deserve this. On the other hand, she did spend months enduring blinding headaches and gruesome pictures in her head. Surely that balances the scales?
Distantly, Cordelia remembers that the scales never balance, not really. That every day is just another chance to make things right. And the same goes for every day that follows.
Would she rather be dead?
Giles rests his head on his folded hands. He feels old. He pours a little more scotch into his tea and hopes that he won’t have any unexpected visitors in the library.
The intervention hadn’t gone well. They had attempted Willow’s “I” statements, but truthfully, Giles felt this was less about “I” and more about “me.” “Me” as in Rupert Giles, because while the others may feel justifiably betrayed by Buffy’s secret, Rupert feels the crushing weight of Angel’s return in much the same manner as he felt the pain inflicted on him by the vampire.
Angel was a gleeful tormentor. (Giles can’t bear to think about Angel and Angelus as two separate beings; doesn’t in fact believe they are.) His eyes were depthless pools of insane cruelty and Giles could barely look into them.
And Angel was wildly inventive. The things he could manage with bungee cords and spring clips and paring knives were not to be remembered and yet Giles had a very difficult time remembering anything but. Tied to the chair, guarded by two rather stupid, but nevertheless imposing, vampires Giles had steeled his mind against the impossible pain of Angel’s torturous fingers. But even that pain wasn’t as bad as the cruel things Angel had whispered into Giles’s ear about the Slayer.
Like any father, Giles was mortified at the thought of Buffy lying beneath this monster. Angel was kind enough to draw a mental picture Giles would never, ever forget.
He could withstand the pain. He couldn’t withstand the picture of Buffy, naked and defenseless, in love with this beautiful creature.
The scotch, healthy measures all day long, eases the memories, but now that Angel is back Giles isn’t sure liquor will be enough. Perhaps not even death will make it better.
Spike wonders if it is possible to truly make amends for your mistakes. He didn’t really ascribe in the checks and balances theory, but he does wonder whether one good deed might tip the scales in one’s favour, if the deed was big enough. Like, he could have killed Willow when he kidnapped her to work her ridiculously weak magic; the spell he wanted that would have delivered Drusilla from the arms and antlers of the Chaos demon, back to his own. Or he could have killed Buffy the day that he went to her house with a shotgun, tired of all the pussy-footing around, and found her weeping on her back step. Something had pulled loose in him, although he wouldn’t like to say what it was. He’d been dead a long time. There wasn’t any humanity left in him that wasn’t actually fake, although he supposed it was possible to say that about a lot of people, real, live people and all.
He remembers drinking blood with some vampire in a seedy bar in New York City years and years ago. The vampire had told him that the demon retains the memories and personalities of the people they kill. That had frightened Spike. He remembered the ineffectual, foppish character William had been. It had taken him decades to recreate himself, become a new man, so to speak. And even still, when faced with Angelus’s cruelty or Darla’s cunning or even Drusilla’s madness, Spike often found that it took every ounce of courage to stare them down, stand his ground, be a man. Sometimes it didn’t work.
On those occasions when he had displeased Angelus or antagonized Darla he would be punished for his transgressions in a way that was part pleasure and mostly pain. Spike would bite his lip clean through. He wasn’t going to call out to a God he didn’t believe in. He wasn’t going to beg for mercy. He wasn’t going to wish he was dead because he already was.
The door to Willow’s dorm room swings open and Oz is faced with the open, round and blushing face of the girl he had met earlier, at Giles’s. Oz has been gone a long time, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that something essential has changed. He may be able to control the wolf, but its senses are still intact. He can smell Willow and this other girl and his skin bristles.
He wonders, briefly, if he waited too long or if this day would have come even if he’d never left. But the feeling, part grief and part insane jealousy, makes it difficult to think clearly back to that day and the decision that, necessarily, brought him back to Sunnydale.
The girl is stammering something and Oz is backing away from the door.
Oz had hoped, he truly had, but the feeling is a dead thing now. All that’s left is to say goodbye.
All roads lead home. There is something comforting in the thought even if she doesn’t actually believe that it’s true. But she isn’t the greatest judge of what is actually possible. She didn’t, for example, think that Tara would ever be standing in her bedroom (formally, their bedroom) and making veiled suggestions about the possibility that they might try again.
Willow doesn’t deserve a second chance. Not with Tara. Or Dawn. Or anyone else whom she has let down over the past few weeks, but when Tara offers this olive branch, Willow feels her knees weaken.
And then Tara is tipping forward, a bouquet of roses blooming against her chest and what Willow discovers, in that endless instant, is that it is possible to feel your past and present and future leak over your fingertips and not feel a thing.
Joyce is making her will. The house will go to Buffy. The insurance policy, what little might be left after the medical bills and burial have been looked after, will be put in trust. She has asked Rupert to look after that so that the girls will have some time to adjust to her...
It’s difficult to say the word. It might not have always been true but that was before Joyce realized that the world was a far more complicated and dangerous place than she had once thought. It offers very little comfort to her that her eldest daughter is a Slayer, although there is a small consolation prize to be had.
She’ll never have to see Buffy die.
Like all 15 year olds, Dawn wishes she were dead about every other day.
Anya hadn’t been a particularly brave demon. And, human, she felt that she was as fragile and insubstantial as a paper doll. Yes. She was exactly like a paper doll. Flat, one dimensional, tabbed clothing chosen and fastened to suit the occasion.
She’d loved well enough. And, in the end, she’d fought well enough. But Anya wasn’t sure she’d lived all that well.
The blade that sliced through her only hurt for a second. And that’s all it took for Anya to wish for more time. She’d squandered hundreds of years and before the darkness took her, she wondered how humans did it, packed living into one short life.
Angel is smiling at him.
He must be dreaming or still drugged. He tries to lift his hand, but the tubes administering painkillers are tangled in the blankets and besides, his arm weighs a thousand pounds.
This confrontation is inevitable, of course, although Wesley certainly wishes he wasn’t supine. Wants to be able to meet Angel’s eyes, wants the words he thinks he practiced to comfort or explain. But it’s no good.
The vampire is still smiling.
And the baby Wesley was trying to protect is gone.
His arms are empty; he has nothing to offer but his own life and he doesn’t imagine Angel will hesitate when he takes it.
Silently he urges Angel to move forward and almost swoons with relief when Angel’s eyes harden and the pillow blocks out the overhead light.
“I brought you tacos,” Cordelia says at the door.
Fred is crouched on the dresser, scribbling labyrinthine equations on the walls with permanent black marker.
“Thanks,” she says. “Can you just leave them and I’ll get them.” Her voice is barely a whisper and she is glad she doesn’t have to make eye contact with the other woman.
“Sure,” Cordelia says brightly. “Don’t let them get cold.”
Cold doesn’t matter to Fred. She was always cold in Pylea. But the thought of being able to eat the tacos while they are still hot is too tempting and she slides off her perch and heads for the door.
When she opens the door, she is startled to find Cordelia standing there, holding the plate of tacos in an outstretched hand. She is smiling, not warmly.
“Oh,” Fred says.
“Doing some redecorating?” Cordy says, handing the plate to Fred and stepping into Fred’s room.
“I, no, I’m...” Fred isn’t sure how to explain all these numbers, how for all the time she was in the demon dimension they swam around in her head reminding her of another life, this life. “I’ll fix it.”
“Hmm,” Cordelia says.
Fred feels as though she is being sized up by the other woman and she pulls her shoulders back. She could be left for dead in Pylea, she thinks, although dealing with Cordelia might prove to be more difficult.
There is a knot of hate as big as a fist in Gunn.
It had started before Alonna, but it had grown tighter because of her. He can still feel her putrid breath curling against his skin. He’d staked a hundred vampires, more, but staking his sister, that was harsh.
Sometimes at night, curled against Fred’s knobby spine, Gunn feels a burning hole in his gut and he knows that for as long as he lives, he’ll never be able to wipe clean the dust left by his sister.
He can’t remember her laugh anymore or the way she’d fight with him over missions or the times they’d sit and talk about their no-more family. He doesn’t remember anything but the amber glow of her demon eyes and the way her skin had split apart beneath the point of his stake.
In his dreams, her chest gapes open and a million maggots spill out.
Alonna is gone, all gone, and sometimes, despite Fred’s sweet breath, Gunn wishes he was, too.
Faith wishes, just for a moment, that she could kill Angel. He is all that is standing in the way of her total freedom. His belief in her is all that keeps her tethered to this world; it is a connection that is both comforting and confining.
She hasn’t forgotten her lust for him. She hasn’t forgotten his devotion to Buffy. He tricked her back in Sunnydale but here in his apartment she believes him when he says that he wants to help her. He is sincere, she thinks. And utterly beautiful.
She had squandered her chance with Buffy. With all of them. She’d been in serious self-destruct mode and why not; she was practically indestructible. But now Angel is offering her a chance, a real chance, to step into the light.
Ironic, really, that he can’t.
And for the first time in a very long time, Faith embraces her potential for good and doesn’t court death anymore.
Story Index Thoughts